John Shields

Let's Call it a "Queer Quilt Across America"

Filed By John Shields | July 26, 2009 5:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Cleve Jones, March on Washington

In recent weeks, the gay and lesbian community has been in a serious and, at times, contentious debate about the wisdom of holding a March on Washington this October.

The concerns range from there isn't enough time to organize any type of event that would garner national attention to the rationale of spending limited resources when they could be used in targeted states to the fact that Congress is out of session that weekend.

Event proponents, meanwhile, say the power of social networking can bring people together in one place, there should be no delay in fighting for equal rights, and it only costs about $300 to fly from the west coast to D.C.

What nearly everyone does agree on is that if the "event" goes forward, the most optimistic projections of people who will attend will number in the tens of thousands - if that. And if less than that show up on the west side of the Capitol, the gay and lesbian movement will look disorganized and weak.

It is time to alter course, and - while we still have it - it is time to stitch together a "Queer Quilt Across America" - not just one on the west side of an empty U.S. Capitol Building.

A little context is in order here. Anyone who knows their gay history or has seen the movie Milk (about the life and times of gay icon Harvey Milk) will know who Cleve Jones is. He worked right alongside Milk as he became the first openly gay elected official in California. Jones also conceived of the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.

At a small rally in Utah on June 8th, Jones declared (almost unilaterally) plans to organize a national March on Washington. An article from the Boston Globe will provide some context to the Salt Lake City rally:

An activist who worked alongside slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk announced plans yesterday for a march on Washington this fall to demand that Congress establish equality and marriage rights for the lesbian, gay, and transgender community.

Cleve Jones said the march planned for Oct. 11 will coincide with National Coming Out Day and launch a new chapter in the gay rights movement. He made the announcement during a rally at the annual Utah Pride Festival.

The call for a LGBTQ "March on Washington" drew nearly instant criticism from gay rights groups, activists and bloggers.

The founder of The Bilerico Project, Bil Browning, listed 10 reasons a march was a bad idea, including several I mentioned, as well as these two:

4. None of this has been coordinated with anyone other than a small circle of people. None of the large organizations have been consulted - although that's not necessarily a bad thing if you've got the grassroots behind you. A small circle of people is not the grassroots though; it's just a different cadre of wanna-be movers and shakers.

6. A march on Washington will not bring marriage equality to flyover country. It will help to prod conservatives to rally and focus energy and money into states like Maine (that could repeal marriage) or Indiana (where we've successfully fought off an amendment every year for almost a decade). In their zeal to bring marriage back to California, the coastal queers are willing to sacrifice us on the alter of domesticity.

Pam Spaulding, of Pam's House Blend, had this to say about the idea:

It is not the time for a march, IMHO. People who would scrape up the time, energy and enthusiasm to get to DC to march should at the very least be able have the opportunity to learn how to lobby elected senators and reps, since we all know people love to turn out to demonstrate en masse, but rarely show up to speak with lawmakers with the same enthusiasm. Also, direct contact with lawmakers is something the right wing far surpasses us at in terms of effectiveness -- this has to be the goal of any effort of the scope of a national march.

Give people tools they can use back home at the state level, not just provide an offline social networking opportunity to hear feel-good speeches in the equivalent of an echo chamber. Stonewall 2.0 grassroots efforts like the initial Join the Impact rallies showed us that we have to take advantage of online direct action to spur  targeted offline action. And it doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg.

In a blog posting of his own on Bilerico, Jones defended the idea of a march, saying there was time to organize the march and there was "a large and growing network of grassroots activists from throughout the country is coordinating the march."

The October 11 march and rally in Washington, DC, offer our community a powerful opportunity to protest the lack of action from President Obama and the Congress. It's an important way to express our anger while building the foundation for a nationwide grassroots movement to change votes in Congress. The organizers are all volunteers, operating with a stripped down, barebones budget and committed to doing the hard, often tedious work of organizing in all 435 Congressional districts.

There you have it - at least the history of the idea of a March on Washington. So far, however, most of the major national gay and lesbian groups have been standing on the sidelines - waiting and wondering.

westlawn.jpg

Some have called for renaming the event to lessen the public relations fallout from a small band of disorganized protesters yelling at an empty building, but one thing is clear: You don't "gather" or have a Woodstock-style "event" on the National Mall - you March. That's a rather well-established fact - unless you are attending the Smithsonian's annual kite-flying festival.

Holding a rally on the west side of the Capitol is a well-intentioned, but highly ineffective, idea - Especially when Congress is out of session, there is no lobbying involved, and there is no clear agenda.

Many have suggested smaller, targeted rallies in all 50 states - and the District of Columbia. Now that's more than simply an idea, that's real grassroots action - and the media coverage would multiply by a factor of at least 50.

It's not just time to "re-brand" the ***idea*** of a March on Washington this October, it is time to nix "it" entirely.

And it's time, in its place, to stitch together a "Queer Quilt Across America" for National Coming Out Day in October. Rallies and marches included.


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I like the alternative, especially if it's well-planned. Part of the issue here has been the lack of work the organizers have put into this event, but it can also work out well if turn-out is low: it won't provide bad visuals if the media isn't there. Which would also be good if turn out is really, really high: it'll be more "surprise" and "spontaneous."

No major LGBT org is helping out, and say whatever you want to about the major orgs, they can still turn out a crowd and provide needed resources for something like this. $300 plane ticket, ok, but where's everyone going to stay? Audio equipment? a stage? Renting the space? Etc.

I won't be going, but that's more because a ticket would cost well over $300 for me and I have full-time work starting about a week before the march that I won't take time off from that early on. I hope it's successful, but I'm not that optimistic.

thanks for posting about this, John.

My initial feeling when I heard about the March was "No." Then I changed my mind when I realized it was better than nothing, and, as I've been saying, we need to be visible. When I read Bil Browning's piece, I started to agree with him that we shouldn't do it, but then when I read Cleve's piece, and later heard him speak in person, I was committed to doing the March.

Obviously, I have a great deal of ambivalence about this!

But John, you put your finger on the button: like politics, all change is local too. It's what we're trying to do with the Kiss-In as well. Change hearts and minds at the local level.

So, I'll agree with you. Hundreds of local rallies beat one big national one.

But the deal is this: We have to ensure that SOMETHING happens - and that means someone has to organize, be it one big one, one hundred smaller ones, or, as may be the case, here, both.

Nice work! Great job!

For folks who can't afford to go or can't go for whatever reason, this is a great idea. I would rather send the money that I would spend going to Washington to LGBT candidates for public office and pro-LGBT candidates. I've kind of given up on big activist organizations. I'm shooting for electing officials with ethics and reason.

Why not make a virtual quilt? Let people submit their quilt square with their story. Include everyone who supports LGBT rights.

Exciting discussion. This is what we've been cooking up - what do you all think about this?:

While all forms of protest and visibility are important and necessary, we are hard at work at an online "queer story quilt" of sorts, planned to launch in time for October coming out activities. A huge and rich diverse set of stories that spreads virally through social networks and provides deep personal connection.

LGBTQ people and supporters/allies can submit stories. Sharing infrastructure will support live protests, local/national lobbying, family gatherings, outreach to mainstream media, viral social media sharing...all sorts of heart, mind, and law changing opportunities.

This is where we are now: NoDumbQuestions.org. New site launching before Oct.

We're working with major national orgs and small grassroots groups, going at it from the top and bottom.

Please get in touch if you'd like to collaborate!


wipmebeetme | July 26, 2009 10:12 PM

How about something similiar to Hands across America from years ago...the human chain that went state to state across the US. I am thinking that it would work. It would impact locally as well as globally.

http://equalityacrossamerica.org/about

"Equality Across America is a network of decentralized organizers in every one of the 435 Congressional districts. These organizers form Congressional District Action Teams (CDATs) that will do the work on the ground in their own communities to achieve full equality.

Each CDAT works not only toward national equality, but participates in their local and state struggles for equality in areas like marriage, adoption, and work-place discrimination. Equality Across America connects organizers from around the country so we can support one another in all of our work, focusing energy and resources in battlegrounds when needed."

I'll be driving from Kentucky with a few allies. Our hotel is booked already ($223 for two nights...bring a sleeping bag and you can crash on our floor ;)) and we'll live off peanut butter sandwiches for a weekend or something.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | July 27, 2009 10:15 AM

A few thousand or a few tens of thousands in DC will be a good result given the unlimited emergency we face as the federal Democrats coldly reject and indefinitely delay our agenda while insulting us with garbage bigotry like their DoJ defense of Clintons bigoted DOMA and inviting scum like Warren to the Inaugural.

Democrats have absolute control of Congress and the White House and their refusal to make ENDA and hate crimes into law and repeal Clinton's DADT and DOMA puts us all in jeopardy.

If federal Democrats, as expected, fail to speedily come through on their promises then GLBT Democrats will have no more excuses. None. That must be both embarrassing and chilling for them. They face the sure prospect of becoming as unloved as the Log Cabin crew were during the Bush Administration. No wonder GLBT Democrats are so nervous about the march. No wonder they want to ‘nix’ it. Its success, even if modest will be another nail in their political coffin.

Your suggestion is more or less what I have been thinking. I feel that it would be far more effective if people showed up at their respective State capitals. I personally feel that it would be much more demonstrative of the old slogan we used to have when I was a youngun' "We are everywhere".

twinkie1cat | July 27, 2009 10:47 AM

I think you have a point on this. While it is time and past time for a gigantic GLT march on Washington, if it is not gigantic it will look about as important as a church picnic. When the huge marches have occurred there has always been institutional backing, with groups with money paying for transportation and housing so the average person could attend at minimal cost. I don't think we have the money or organization for an effective march right now and the community has not galvanized a Martin Luther King. It is still too scattered and the men, women, and transpeople are not united. It would be better to wait a while and focus on organization and causes the entire community can agree on and make a memorable stand in a year or two when Congress is in session and working on an important bill.

Meanwhile, changing the minds in the states and local governments, supporting Pride in the smaller cities and the defeat of anti-gay agendas, particularly in the South outside of the major cities, and reducing the influence of the hate groups is of ultimate importance.

We in Arizona are resurrecting the Stonewall Democrats and intend on putting thousands of people at a march and rally at our Arizona State Capitol and downtown Phoenix. People back east have no idea what it takes to get there from here. We have great challenges in Arizona, among those the fact that money problems has affected 90% of the budget for Tucson's Wingspan center. Everyone is hurting and we are rethinking all types of ways of saving our money and spending it more wisely...we all agree we'll need lots in the next election cycle here. Despite spending $5 million in the last elections the Democrats LOST seats in our Legislature.

I'm staying home and working here.

Rick Sours | July 27, 2009 4:23 PM

The LGBT community is presently at a very critical
point. We are still Second Class citizens and in
some areas there is reason for real concern since
things are not only staying the same but going
backwards. Sadly, hate crimes are on the increase.
Having been out as an openly Gay man since 1972 and having lived in the Washington DC area from 1973 to 2004. I have taken part in a couple of marches on
Washington as well as being a volunteer for the AIDS quilt when it was in DC. Marches in the past
have helped raise public awareness to LGBT issues
and help raise the self esteem of LBGT individuals.
At the present time, I honestly feel that one
major victory for the LGBT community will serve as a domingo affect for other issues. That being said,we need to take into account the present economic situation. That being said, we need to
do whatever is going to "give us the most bang for our buck".

beachcomberT | August 1, 2009 7:51 PM

A Washington march is OK but if it amounts to a one-day pride party, who cares? It will be much more effective if there are 50 state-level rallies the same weekend, showing the media the LGBT movement is indeed national, not just an inside-the-Beltway thingie. Not doing anything this year gives the Obama administration and Congress a pass, which they do not deserve. Be loud and be proud. It's not just about marriage, it's about the hate-crimes bill (now in the hands of an obscure conference committee), the DADT repeal movement, ENDA, etc etc.